Jenna Steely is a designer/maker in the Bay Area working toward a more progressive future.


A sketchbook is a lot of things. A place to take notes, to dump ideas, to iterate, to doodle. It's my place for words and pictures.  

Some paint on a wall

I painted a mural of our company's values on the wall of our office. It's pretty cool! Not only does it serve to inspire via the content, but I feel that things like this make our space feel more creative. Here's a timelapse:

All in a day’s work

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I've been painting planets for the past few months. You might have noticed them strung up on my wall in this post, but maybe not. 

The first planet I painted was a bit of an accident—I had the intention of simply painting a circle, with watercolors, but when I observed the final product, I realized it was a planet. 

It was a fun and low pressure way to play with watercolors, so I decided I would do more of them. In fact, I would paint a hundred of them. I'm on #35 presently. I'd like to document them all eventually, but figured it'll take me time and energy to do that, so we'll see what a slow roll of that feels like. 

Often I start with a wet circle and load pigments on my brush to watch them bleed together organically as it dries. Sometimes I experiment with metallics, or salt. They don't all turn out well. 

I had some friends over and we all painted planets together. It was a very accessible way to make art together and share an experience—it's not a very high barrier for entry, and the magic is in the exploration. 

I was having dinner with my friend Heather the other night. She is a fairly well-known abstract painter, and she asked me how I felt about other people sort of... doing my thing. I understand why she would feel protective about people copying artists, but I think there's a fundamental difference between what she does and what I'm doing. Hers is fine art—her life's work and exploration has gotten her to the work that she produces, and I deeply respect that. I don't think that someone can sit down and make her art on a lazy Tuesday evening. Whereas I'm happy to share my little planet exercise with whoever wants to play with me. 

Instead of Burning Man this year...

It was a tough decision but I think it will be refreshing to skip a year, especially after the Oregon Eclipse Festival the week prior. The decision was made less tough by this alternate plan though. 

Goodbye, American Steel

I hadn't been back to American Steel Studios in quite a few months, so last night I dropped by open studio at the metal shop where I built my giraffes to say hello and see whats new at the Department of Spontaneous Combustion. I haven't been feeling very excited for Burning Man this year, so I anticipated that this visit would fire me up when I see all the cool art and energy that is usually in high gear by this time of the year, peak Burning Man build season. 

What I found was a bit of a shock. The big, inspiring art was gone. Half the bays were empty. The Tuesday night soundscape which used to be marked by music, voices, and heavy machinery was gone. I made my way to Bay 5, wondering what has happened.

Luckily, the three people I was hoping to see most were milling about and I was able to catch up with the folks who taught me everything I know about metal and fire. The biggest news was that DSC is moving—in fact they are packing it out of AmSteel this very weekend.

I learned that since the building was sold last year, sweeping changes and restrictions have chased out the artists that used to be synonymous with AmSteel. Such as restricting the use of bay cranes, a 12ft cap on all structures and storage, and (quite detrimental to DSC) NO FIRE. Karen, the brilliant woman who had founded AmSteel and made it the incredible community art space that it was, has been forced out. The new management is interested in seeing each tenant's "business plan", and less interested in providing space for the not-for-profit artist collectives that have long resided there. 

What that means for DSC is that they've basically been waiting to get evicted. They couldn't commit to building anything for this year's burn, since they didn't know if they would have the shop space to build it in—and sure enough, their time has come. In happier news, they have found a welcoming new home at m0xy, a community-based art center, who is very excited to have DSC join their community and bring metal and fire to their space. I'm relieved that an institution like DSC has a bright future since the story of artists getting squeezed out usually ends with their visions getting killed altogether. Still, moving an entire steel shop is a huge undertaking, and it'll be months before the new shop is up and running. 

On a personal level, what I was hoping for was an inspiring visit that would fuel my energy for this year's burn and give me project ideas. It ended up being a confirmation that perhaps the timing is ripe to skip a year. 

Upgraded Workspace

Thomas and I moved into a new apartment that is a total dream. While our last spot had a room dedicated to being our workspace, it had zero natural light. Our new place sits atop a full wood and metal shop so we have all the room we need for using tools and making messes downstairs—so our desks live in our living room now.

I'm pretty fond of my set up, which is fairly similar to how it was at our last place, just now with ample natural light. I've also figured out a solution for pinning up my work. When we first moved in I was using masking tape, but after a few days the adhesive would literally melt (!) off the wall and leave a residue behind. So I rigged up this string + clothespin system that is working nicely, but we'll see how it scales as I make more planets. 

What is our "movement?"

On a recent family trip, Thomas' father had asked us how the art that we are making in the Bay Area right now will be remembered. It was more of a rhetorical question at the time, but one that I've been thinking about. There is plenty of documentation and memory around the Beats or the Post-Impressionists, for example. I've realized that the bizarre parties that Dali and his pals the Surrealists hosted seem somewhat similar to the type of fun we are producing here in my Bay Area community of artists and weirdos.

I was surprised to think of what we are doing as a thing of cultural relevance, in a historical sense. But maybe its something to consider.  

However, one of the key differences may be that the output of our community is far less lasting and precious. For example, the output of a writer is novels, letters and journals. A painter has canvases and sculpture to hang in galleries and sit in archives. But what we make are experiences, weekends and moments—that happen for a duration of time, and then disappear into our collective memories—and you can't hang those on a wall. 

The art of experience is precious yet fleeting—the Mx. Multiverse party was a beauty pageant for which attendees created their own universes or alternate realities to conceptualize and radically challenge what "beauty" means. But no one takes their costume and puts it on a mannequin to save for the ages. We tear down the microverses that were built for one night only and repurpose the flowers and cages for another time.

We may attempt to document our work, but I fear that for every art movement that is remembered and celebrated, there must be dozens that are forgotten and live on only in the polaroids and memories of its own participants—because, well, you really shoulda been there, man. 

But maybe thats the beauty of it? To live in the moment, be fully present, and know that this very moment will never happen again and will not be able to be shared or transferred through history—so let's make the most of what we have right now in this very time and place. 

Perhaps its grandiose to think that our art can be compared to that of the great artists of history, but I do feel that ALL artists—whether they achieve lasting fame and legacy or not—are the heroes responsible for creating the magic that our world desperately needs—whether they are acknowledged for it or not. 

How subcultures die

I just read an article that was shared around an art community that I'm involved in and found it particularly thought-provoking. It's a sociology rant on why subcultures fail entitled Geeks, MOPs, and sociopaths in subculture evolution. It got me thinking about the various subcultures that I am a part of, or have participated in and what it means to be part of such ephemeral cultures.

Its a good social analysis behind the feeling of emerging onto something new and fresh, feeling it peak in awesomeness, and then the sad erosion as it moves mainstream, gets dumbed down and sliced up by capitalists to be consumed by the sheeple. 

It's a somewhat depressing and nihilistic read, but feels pretty spot on when applied to Burning Man, especially in contrast to some of the more closed art communities that I mingle in.